The scenic city of Vancouver, B.C., has laid on some beautiful weather for the Canadian and Italian teams competing in this weekend’s Davis Cup World Group quarter-final.
Unlike the chilly, mostly overcast days when the Miele Canadian Davis Cup team played France and Spain the past two years in February, there has been nothing but cloudless skies and a warmth that had people all over the city wondering around in summery garb over Easter weekend.
The cherry blossoms have just come out as can be seen in the picture above looking across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver.
On Monday with more sunshine outdoors, captain Martin Laurendeau spoke indoors at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre about how the Canadian team feels comfortable returning to Vancouver after those two previous ties (a 4-1 loss to France and a 3-2 victory over Spain).
“Everyone is arriving back in the city and we’re in Davis Cup mode,” he said. “All the memories and flashbacks are coming alive now. Everyone is feeling good.”
That includes Milos Raonic who is over the strep throat and fever that forced him to withdraw from a third-round match at the Sony Open in Miami last week.
When it was suggested to Laurendeau (above at right during practice on Monday) that there wasn’t the same buzz about playing Italy that there was with Spain, he replied, “this is a quarter-final match in the World Group. These guys had a great first-round win over Croatia and they have a lot of depth, a lot of Top 50 guys that have played the game for a long time. We’re going have to work hard for every point for sure.
“They played their last round on clay – they were given the choice and chose to play indoor clay. That says a lot about maybe their favourite surface but if you look at the results indoors and on hard courts, these guys can handle themselves. The depth of the team is similar to Spain – so we’re approaching the tie the same as we did against Spain.”
Spain had Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos as its No. 1 and No. 2 singles players. But the top two Italians, No. 18 Andreas Seppi and No. 31 Fabio Fognini, are both ranked higher than Granollers and Ramos were for the last tie.
The Italians won their first round by winning the doubles (Fognini and Simone Bolelli) and defeating Croatia’s No. 2 player Ivan Dodig twice – while losing both matches to the No. 1 Marin Cilic.
In Canada’s win over Spain, Frank Dancevic came through with a key and astonishing 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 dismantling of Granollers on the opening day. That, combined with two Milos Raonic wins, propelled Canada to its first ever win in World Group competition.
When a Vancouver reporter suggested to Laurendeau that Dancevic was a wild card, and that it was hard to predict how he would play, the captain responded, “we know Frank has beaten a lot of good players in Grand Slams, in Davis Cup, in big tournaments – it wasn’t his first flashy victory for sure. So we know what he can do with a tennis ball. We know what he can do at certain times and we believe completely in his abilities. I don’t consider Frank (on Monday serving below) a wild card. I consider him one of our top players.”
The Italian No. 2 counterpart to the No. 198-ranked Dancevic is the flamboyant Fognini.
He scored the decisive win, taking out Dodig in four sets in the fifth and deciding match, in February when Italy hosted Croatia in Turin.
With the mercurial Fognini, you never quite know what you’re going to get. Laurendeau agreed with that observation: “that’s very true. I find from watching him play that he’s super talented. When he’s inspired be can beat anyone 6-1 but he can lose a lot of 6-1 and 6-0 sets as well. This is Davis Cup and I expect him to be getting up for this match. Fabio is a great player and, under these circumstances, we’ve got to expect him to be at his best.”
The one mystery so far for the Italians, is Bolelli who was slated to arrive in Vancouver on Monday afternoon, accompanied by a doctor I was informed by a member of the Italian support group. Bolelli, who forms a formidable doubles team with Fognini (they beat Daniel Nestor and Mahesh Bhupathi at the 2013 Australian Open), injured his wrist at the Sony Open and did not arrive with the rest of the Italians who have been in Vancouver since late last week.
“Fognini –Bolelli is their best team,” Laurendeau said. “But Bolelli hurt himself last week. We still have to see if he’s in his best form. We have to expect that if they play together, they’re a good team. On our side, we prepared ourselves against one of the best teams in the world the last time (Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez) against Spain. We’ll do the same thing against the Italians.”
For the last tie against Spain, Tennis Canada chose the Wilson US Open ball but for this one with Italy it reverted to the Yonex Tour ball that was used against France in February, 2012.
“There are a lot of options for balls,” Laurendeau explained. “For this tie we didn’t necessarily want to play with the speed of the surface – maybe a little bit with the ball. It’s a ball that’s a bit harder, and bit more compact and that will go through the air a little bit more. Facing Italy, the consensus among the players was that it was a good ball to go with.
“Milos has won San Jose three years in a row with that ball and I think he lost serve only once or twice in those three years. It’s a ball that has served him well and the other players enjoy it.”
Laurendeau is hoping to lead his team into the World Group semifinals for the first time in history.
As for Italian captain Corrado Barazutti (middle front below holding a racquet), his country won the Davis Cup in 1976 when he was a player. But things have not been so successful lately and the victory over Croatia in February was the first time Italy has gone past the World Group first round since 1998.
MILOS GETS HIS KICKS
As you can hear in the audio below, Milos Raonic doesn’t usually play the soccer/tennis that the Canadian squad often engages in during Davis Cup practice.
He claims he likes to do it mostly for the “trash talking.”
Listen to Milos HERE.
Playing with Filip Peliwo, Raonic defeated captain Laurendeau and his own coach Galo Blanco at soccer/tennis. At stake was 20 push-ups and Raonic (below) took obvious pleasure in making sure that Blanco paid the price.
The court at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre has been down and being played on by both teams since Saturday. Above Dancevic (near side) and Jesse Levine have a hit on Monday.
While there’s definitely lots of serious practicing going on, the players don’t want to get too uptight.
I don’t speak Italian but I did hear a group of players and officials discussing something, and the only word I understood was “crybaby.” It sounded like one of them was explaining the meaning of the word in English.
Later, I watched Daniele Bracciali (a possible candidate for doubles), practicing with Paolo Lorenzi, who is a back-up singles player. After a well-hit shot, Bracciali said, “great shot man!”
Lorenzi and Canadian doubles back-up player Adil Shamasdin had a warm greeting when Shamasdin arrived. They can be seen (Shamasdin on left and Lorenzi lower right) in the picture below.
When the Canada-Italy tie begins on Friday, a lot of people are looking forward to watching the personality-plus Fognini. He is the exact opposite of his teammate Andreas Seppi, who shows virtually no emotion on court and has a very methodical (but effective) playing style. The picture below is of Fognini on Monday alongside the Italian team’s physio Luca Farinelli.
GETTING RIBBED BY RAONIC
Before leaving Toronto for Vancouver, yours truly (above) saw that the forecast was for some pretty warm weather.
I decided that I would bring a couple of pairs of shorts – even if I was going to be indoors for most of the week.
Upon arriving in the arena on Monday morning, Milos greeted me with a comment about me looking “preppy” and suggested I should be “in school.”
A little later, when he got a closer look at my linen vest – bought at a classy thrift store in Palm Springs for six bucks a few weeks ago – he quipped, “it probably has moths in it!”